Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine is home to millions of believers of the Orthodox Church. But their loyalties are divided between the Kiev and Moscow patriarchies.
On Saturday, a historic council of Orthodox bishops in Kiev created a new Ukrainian church independent from Russia.
The move followed a synod by Ukrainian priests in Kiev's 11th-century Saint Sophia Cathedral which was snubbed by representatives of the Moscow-loyal branch.
Christianity came to Kiev from the city of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, in the 10th century.
It was transferred to the Moscow patriarchy in 1686, leaving the Ukrainian branch of Orthodoxy under control of Russian church for the next 300 years.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainian political leaders and clerics made several attempts to form an independent Ukrainian church, but to no avail.
In 1992, a top Ukrainian cleric -- now known as Patriarch Filaret -- proclaimed the independence of the Kiev Patriarchate but it was not recognised by any Orthodox church in the world.
Following the ousting of Moscow-backed Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, Filaret and the country's new pro-Western leader Petro Poroshenko began to push for an independent Ukrainian Church with renewed force.
The Russian annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin-backed separatist uprising in Ukraine's east triggered an increase in the number of believers in Ukraine loyal to Filaret's church.
In October, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I -- considered the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide -- agreed to recognise the Ukrainian Orthodox Church's independence from the Moscow Patriarchate.
The decision has sparked fury in Moscow and prompted the Russian Orthodox Church to cut all ties with the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Orthodoxy is the most popular religion in Ukraine, with roughly two in three Ukrainians considering themselves believers of this Christian faith.
Today's Ukraine is home to three Orthodox churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, controlled by Russia, and the smaller Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
While the Russia-controlled church oversees a larger number of parishes in Ukraine, the Kiev Patriarchate has a larger total number of parishioners, according to surveys.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has more than 12,000 parishes, the Kiev Patriarchate counts some 4,800 parishes, while the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church has a little more than 1,000.
A recent survey estimated that some 36 percent of Ukrainians consider themselves members of the Kiev Patriarchate Church. Meanwhile, 19 percent of Ukrainians called themselves believers of the Moscow-controlled branch.
Saturday's council of bishops chose as the head of the new church 39-year-old Metropolitan Yepifaniy, whose secular name is Sergiy Dumenko.